By Anas Alhadi Al (YES 2016-17, Libya, hosted by AYA in Sierra Vista, AZ)
Not better, not worse, just different. That’s how we are taught to approach our exchange during our YES pre-departure and DC arrival orientations. But my exchange year was more than better – it was the best ever!
I’m from Tripoli, Libya (the big Sahara), and I was placed in Sierra Vista, a welcoming, warm town in the southern part of Arizona (also in the desert). Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about buying winter clothes because the weather wasn’t any different from my home country.
The American lifestyle, on the other hand, is very different from life in Libya. But, for me, it wasn’t hard to cope with thanks to my amazing host mom, Bobbi, who accepted me into her home like one of her own kids. I was one of four boys in my host family, two exchange students and two host brothers living in the house with our single host mom. She always made sure that we were happy, and we always helped her around the house by cleaning or fixing things.
From hiking and camping to grocery shopping and house cleaning, so many moments bonded us like a real family, including both happy and challenging times. We made great memories as a family. When I went back to visit a year later, it was like nothing changed. It felt like coming home.
My small school was not the traditional
American high school, but the teachers were very friendly. Due to the size of
the school, the teachers were able to develop closer relationships with students.
They even took us on after-school trips and invited groups of us to dinners at
their houses. I had so much fun attending classes and trying American sports
that were new to me.
We did a lot of community service. It felt good
to be part of the community and help during holidays and other town activities.
Our local coordinator, Margret, always found volunteer opportunities for us and
never failed to keep us busy.
I am now studying architectural engineering
at university. It is a competitive program, and I needed a lot of skills to get
in – most of which I got from my exchange experience. As an exchange student, I
learned to step out of my comfort zone and work with people from different backgrounds.
I became more confident and independent. It also opened my eyes to new
things and fresh perspectives. It was and always will be one of the best
experiences in my life.
Why do I want to be an Alumni Instructor for the DC Arrival
Orientations, you ask? When I arrived in DC as a tired, excited, but confused new
YES student, there were these smiling, happy people at the airport wearing red t-shirts
to welcome us warmly and make us feel comfortable. (Those people in red shirts
were the YES DCO staff and alumni!) We spent three days learning and preparing
ourselves for the year, and whenever I had a question, the DCO alumni had the
answer because they had been in our shoes.
I am so excited to now be the person in the red YES staff t-shirt who
welcomes and helps the new YES students. I can’t wait to tell them about my great
experience, how I overcome differences and difficulties, and encourage them to
make the most of their first three days in DC and the entire exchange year